Winter pilgrims by Toby Clemens

After some dramatic events in the cold winter snow, Catherine and Thomas both have to leave their secluded monastery in Lincoln on the run for Giles Riven, a local lord with the power to crush them. They don’t know each other and have no clue about the current wars going on outside between the houses of Lancaster and York. The dukes of York and Warwick have just lost the last battle and Warwick’s army is gathering in Calais. By accident, Catherine and Thomas end up there and they join the retinue of Sir John Fakenham and his son Richard. This new alliance will lead them to the battlefields of Northampton and Towton.

Winter pilgrims is the first book in the kingmaker series about two commoners during the Wars of the Roses. 15th century England always makes for a nice setting, but this book doesn’t focus on the kings, queens and politics. It’s about a young man and woman trying to survive and make sense of all this. In that way, it reminded of me of Ken Follett’s approach in his Kingsbridge series.

There’s also a huge focus on some famous battles, so that you can compare Clemens to Iggulden or Cornwell. His battle scenes are gruesome, bloody and confusing. Just as any soldier would have experienced it. Especially the brutality and confusion of the battle at Towton comes alive at the end of the novel.

Winter pilgrims opens fast, setting the scene for the rest of the story. The cliches of a monk turning into a warrior and a nun into a nurse is something that should be overlooked. Another cliche is the evil arch enemy that haunts them during the book. This is foremost an adventure novel with nice characters that you get used to very quickly (only to see them murdered afterwards :D), the plot comes in second. And I’m ok with that because the story certainly was entertaining.

It’s also a book clearly written as the first part in a series. A lot of plot lines are started, but aren’t yet touched in much detail in this book. The end is abrupt and leaves some questions unanswered. The writing is in first person tense, and although that’s a bit strange, it didn’t bother me that much. I liked the focus on the common men and the battles. So, I believe I’m curious enough to read the next book ‘Broken faith’.

Clemens is no Cornwell and this novel was maybe a bit too heavy in pages with an unbelievable plot at some times. But if you’re up for an adventure during this fascinating period, Winter pilgrims will provide you with exactly that.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Do you have a favourite book set during the Wars of the Roses? Do you like to read an adventure novel?

April recap

Time for another monthly recap. It was a great reading month. Goodreads tells me I’m already 5 (!) books ahead of schedule which is great, especially when I’ve also read 5 classics so far.

Read(ing)

I finished 5 books in April, although I already read the bulk of Winter Pilgrims in March. I also believe Winter Pilgrims was my favorite read, together with Protector, the newest Conn Iggulden coming out this month (us edition)!

I already finished my classics club spin ‘Lady Chatterley’s lover’ and will publish my review about it in May. But I can already say that it didn’t turn out as I expected. I believe that books written at the beginning of the 20th century aren’t my favorites.

Number of pages read: 1.554 pages
Number of books finished: 5
Favorite read: Protector by Conn Iggulden
Centuries visited: 1st century B.C., 15th century, 17th century and 20th century
Countries visited: England, Norway and Greece
Currently reading: I’ve just started ‘First of the Tudors’ by Joanna Hickson
Next up: No idea yet actually :D.

Reviewed

Blogged

Added to my TBR

  • The puritan princess by Miranda Malins, because I keep seeing it everywhere and it has an interesting premise
  • Mrs England by Stacey Halls. I loved her previous books so she has become a mustread author for me.
  • Same story with The metal heart by Caroline Lea. I loved The glass woman.
  • I want to try Karen Maitland’s books, The vanishing witch seems an excellent introduction to her work.
  • I wasn’t sure at first to continue the kingmaker series but in the meantime I still think back to the story of Winter Pilgrims, so Broken faith is on my list now.

Links I enjoyed

  • I’m a huge England lover and I also love the English royals. So I was a bit sad to learn about Prince Philip’s death. He was such an interesting man: his Greek relatives, having fought during WWII… I read a lot of articles about his life but I didn’t keep any links :). I do recommend reading ‘Before the crown‘ though.
  • 11 books to put you out of a reading rut

What was your favourite read this month?

Rags of Time by Michael Ward

Wool merchant Joseph Venell is strangely murdered on the countryside near London. Spice trader Thomas Tallant, just returned from India, is asked for his opinion on the case by an investigator. Against his will, the suspicion falls on him, even more when Venell’s business partner dies at the house of his parents. How can he prove his innocence? Luckily, Thomas gets some help from the intelligent but mysterious Elizabeth Seymour and his best friend Edmund.

The cover states that the murder was just the beginning of the affair and actually this is a great description. The story has many different plot lines that have nothing to do with the murder mystery. 17th century England under the reign of Charles I comes alive in this new historical mystery series (as I suspect there will be more books with Thomas and Elizabeth as main characters).

The 1630’s isn’t exactly a time period that I know a lot about. There’s a lot of historical context in the other plot lines, such as the religious uproar between the puritans and the Anglican followers of bisshop Laud, the protégé of the queen. We also get some insight in the world of the merchants working for the East-Indian Trading company. I especially loved the description of London, a city full of possibilities by trade. As a result many people move to London and the city is overcrowded, full of disease and with a strong stench of human filth.

There’s an enormous cast of characters. I liked Thomas Tallant, he’s no ordinary detective as in many mystery novels, but a spice trader who becomes involved in a series of strange events. This is quite an original starting point for the whole affair as Thomas doesn’t have any particular skills on how to catch a killer. However, he does have the skill to get himself into trouble 😅.

Elizabeth Seymour has a lot of potential as a character. She’s beautiful and witty, way ahead of her time and interested in science. She also has a gambling problem. But I believe she didn’t get enough ‘screen time’ in this novel to really flower.

At the end, it all comes together. For me the revelations felt a bit messy sometimes, especially the action scenes. I’m not yet sure if I’ll read any sequel though. Rags of time is an entertaining mystery novel with a great cast and an interesting historical setting.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thanks to Michael Ward for a copy of his book in return for my honest opinion.

The color purple by Alice Walker

America, early 20th century. The black sisters Nettie and Celie grow up together until their mother dies and their father abuses Celie, the oldest. Celie flees into a loveless marriage with a much older man who beats her, leaving Nettie behind. When Shug Avery, her husband’s ex-lover, comes to town, the two women develop a friendship and Celie finally starts living. Then she discovers her husband has kept Nettie’s letters, who is now in Africa as a missionary, from her.

This is the most recent book from my Classics club list, written in the eighties but already considered a classic. It even has a Penguin classic edition, so I decided I could use it for my list. I always back off from reading books about racism. I can’t really explain why I find it hard to pick them up. But once reading I seem to find them quite fascinating. This was also the case with ‘the color purple‘.

This is a novel mainly consisting of letters from Celie to God. She writes in faltered English, which makes it not always easy to read. But I hadn’t a problem with that. It contributed to the story and the characterization of Nettie, who is not learned, a bit naive and learns about life the hard way. In the middle of the book, Nettie’s perspective is added to the story. She writes her letters in more perfect English to Celie from Africa where she’s working as a missionary together with another black family.

The book is as much about racism as about feminism. Apart from Nettie and Celie, there are some other black women that are part of the main cast. The outspoken Sofie, free-fought Shug and invisible Piep (whose real name is Mary Agnes). A lot of bad things happen to them, but this creates a strong bond between the women.

I enjoyed Celie’s perspective the most. It gave me an insight into the difficult position of black women in the south of America not even 100 years ago. Nettie’s story in Africa talks about the colonization, another heavy subject. So I would understand that you can feel a bit overwhelmed when reading this book, but I should praise Walker for having written a balanced book. There’s friendship, love and hope everywhere.

I understand why this is considered a modern classic and a book every woman should read at least once.

This is book 4/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read the color purple?

CC Spin #26: my result

Last week I made a list of twenty classics for the classics club spin. It’s my first participation, so I was excited to discover my result. And the lucky number is…. 11!

This means I’m going to read ‘Lady Chatterley’s lover’ by D.H. Lawrence.

I wasn’t expecting a particular book. I made a list of 20 random and not too bulky books. Lady Chatterley’s lover doesn’t seem like the most hard or serious book on the list. This book was banned back in the 1920’s because of explicit sexual language. I’m quite sure that will not be the case if you compare it to current standards (50 shades anyone?), so I’m eager to see what the fuzz could have been about.

I know this is not a high-rated classic or story. A lot of people dislike it. But I did enjoy the 2015 BBC movie with Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger. So that’s why it ended up on my classics club list. 😅 I don’t remember everything from the story, so I guess it’s a nice moment to start reading the book.

I’ll start this classic after finishing my current historical mystery ‘Rags of time’.

What’s your result?

Warriors of the storm by Bernard Cornwell

In the middle of the night thousands of Danes land in the north of Mercia uniting under their new ‘king’ Ragnall Ivarsson, brother to Uhtred’s son-in-law. It’s still unclear if Ragnall wants to overthrow the lady of Mercia Aethelflaed or whether his eye wanders towards Northumbria. In the meantime, Uhtred’s daughter Stiorra is being besieged in Ireland. Uhtred now has to choose between his love for his daughter and his oath as a warrior to Aethelflaed.

This is already the ninth installment in the Saxon series and we meet a much older battle-hardened Uhtred now. The previous book, the empty throne, ended with a sudden surprise for me, so I was curious to see how the story would continue. What I liked about this book is that it offers a great balance between some terrific battle scenes and the rest of the story. Uhtred is always busy in this novel and I in particular liked his small adventure into Ireland. We also finally get an insight into Finan’s past. He’s by far my favorite side character.

Although this certainly can be read as a stand-alone as the story offers a lot of closure at the end (no big cliffhanger this time), I do believe you’ll enjoy it more when you’ve read all the books in the series. There are some characters from Uhtred’s past popping up and we do say goodbye to some of them (which was a bit of a surprise for me but it promises some new characters in the next books).

Another aspect I enjoyed is Uhtred’s relationship with his children which is a big part of the story. As is the constant strive between the Christian God and the old Gods of the Danes. In that regard, I was a bit disappointed by the fast end of the storyline in Mercia. I had hoped father Leofstan would become a bigger part of the story. I also guessed the truth around Mus, but she was a great addition to the cast nonetheless. It made the final battle actually quite funny. Nobody can write that kind of scene as good as Cornwell.

Warriors of the storm was another great read. In the next book, the flame bearer, Uhtred will return to Bebbanburg and yes, aren’t we all looking forward to that?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CC spin #26: the list

I’m going to participate in my first ever classics club spin! This is just too much fun and of course I’ve still more than enough books on my list left (current status: 4/50).

The goal of a classics club spin is to list 20 books from your CC list you still need to read in a random order. At the end of this week, a number is chosen and you have to read the book that corresponds that number on your list. In this spin edition, the deadline to read (and review) the book is the 31st of May.

I was already thinking about my next classic for April/May, so I’m sure this game will help me make a choice. This is my list:

  1. Utopia by Thomas More
  2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  3. My cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier
  4. The fifth queen by Ford Madox Ford
  5. The trial by Franz Kafka
  6. The scarlet letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. North and south by Elizabeth Gaskell
  8. Tess d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  9. The prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  10. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  11. Lady Chatterly’s lover by D.H. Lawrence
  12. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  13. Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  14. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  15. The remains of the day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  16. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  17. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  18. Far from the madding crowd by Thomas Hardy
  19. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoj
  20. The idiot by Fyodor Dostoeysky

Let’s see what we get on Sunday!

Amenable women by Mavis Cheek

When Flora Chapman’s husband Edward, one of the town’s most popular men, suddenly dies during a balloon flight, she doesn’t seem to grieve. Flora has always been a plain woman who lived in the shadow of her perfect husband. Between the notes on his desk, she finds an unfinished history project on the manor where they live that leads to Anne Of Cleves. Huscott manor was one of her residences after her divorce from Henry VIII. Flora decides to travel to Paris on her own to visit Anna’s portrait in the Louvre.

I had hoped this book to be an entertaining dual time frame novel. But actually it’s not. The story focuses on Flora who recently became a widow and by accident takes a large interest in the life of Anne Of Cleves. At Huscott manor her husband had found a stone with her date of death carved into it. But no one knows who left this mark 40 years after Anna’s death and why. She decides to leave for Paris to see Anna’s famous Holbein portrait in the Louvre to see for herself if she really was a Flanders’ mare.

There’s a second perspective of Anna her portrait. Yes, at night she awakes and tells her story to other portraits, such as Elizabeth I and Mary De Guise. It says a lot about this book if I tell you that Anna’s perspective was the most interesting part of this book. Too bad, the author didn’t choose for a real 16th century perspective of Anne Of Cleves. The whole portrait thing was a bit too far fetched for my tastes.

The problem with this book is that although Flora is a witty main character, I just didn’t seem to care about her life and problems. I cared even less about all the people in the town. I did find the parallels between Flora’s life and Anna’s not at all that big. And at times Flora and the other characters behaved as toddlers. Flora desperately wants the town’s solicitor to like her and tries to achieve this by out-arguing a museum guide. Her daughter Hilary isn’t any better as she dotes on her deceased father and needs to put him on a display in every sentence she says.

The other thing that really bothered me was the fact that the story tries to contradict the fact that Anne was plain and ugly. That she wasn’t a Flanders’ mare. While at the time some other historical women such as Catherine Parr and Jane Seymour are being called ‘a nursemaid’ and ‘dull’. I’m fine with a bit of feminism, but I don’t like one-sided feminism.

This book is more about the grief of a woman who lived in her husband’s shadow and now tries to find her own place in the sunlight than a historical book. If you love chick-lit or a light novel and you don’t know a lot about The Tudors this book might be something for you. If you’re a history lover like me, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

What’s your favorite dual time frame novel?

Flowers of darkness by Tatiana De Rosnay

Clarissa is a successful author who has just left her second husband and is looking for a place to stay. By accident, she gets selected for a spot in a new apartment complex destined for artists. This apartment is built in the new neighbourhood that has risen from the ashes of a terrorist attack on the Eiffel Tower. After a few weeks, Clarissa notices some strange things in her new home. There are cameras everywhere (except on the toilet), her personalized virtual assistant seems to know her deepest fears and at night her dreams are haunted with a strangely familiar voice. Together with her granddaughter Andy they start an investigation. Are they really being watched? And by who?

Tatiana De Rosnay is my favorite novelist. I always pick up her books, regardless of the topic. The premise of ‘Flowers of darkness‘ didn’t grab my attention at first as artificial intelligence isn’t a topic I’m used to reading about. But once I started, I discovered all the familiar De Rosnay elements are there. A mother recovering from a loss, a small family with their problems and secrets, a bilingual main character who’s also a writer, Paris…

Yes this is a story about the near future where Europe is recovering from a range of awful terrorist attacks, from the Brexit (not so science fiction), from the bee extinction and a sea level rise. It’s an awful future, where people are competing with robots. But not everything is so different in this story. There is love and there is loss. I loved the side characters from her first husband Toby, over her English father to the heartwarming neighbour who befriends Clarissa. And of course, there’s Andy, Clarissa’s angel.

A part of the story is also about Clarissa’s research into the lives of the writers Virginia Woolf and Romain Gary. And the parallels with her own struggles. The mystery element of the apartment is build up but open for interpretation at the end. I had no problem with that. You constantly wonder if Clarissa really sees and hears those things or if it’s just her imagination working.

I finished this book in two sittings. That’s very rare. And it’s just because I enjoy her writing so much. Reading De Rosnay is like wrapping myself in my favourite blanket. This might not be her best, but it still has much to like. I highly recommend to read one of her books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Who’s your favourite novelist?

March recap

Hi there, I can’t believe it’s already April. I love spring, it seems like the world is waking up and I’m longing for a rather ‘normal’ summer. In Belgium, we are again in a four-week ‘lockdown’, but in the beginning of March I still managed to go to the office and visit the library, hooray!

Read(ing)

Number of pages read: 1.518 pages
Number of books finished: 4
Favorite read: Warriors of the storm by Bernard Cornwell
Centuries visited: 10th century, 16th century, 17th century, 20th century and 21th century
Countries visited: England and America
Currently reading: I’ll finish Winter pilgrims by Toby Clemens somewhere this week
Next up: The mercies, I could finally get my hands on this one in the library

I finished the strange adventures of H at the beginning of the month and enjoyed it. I’ll keep an eye on any new books from Sarah Burton. Then I started Amenable women from my 2021 TBR, but it turned out a huge disappointment. Luckily, the adventures of Uhtred in 10th century England enhanced my spirits again. Warriors of the storm is the 9th installment in the saxon series, but every bit as good as the first one. I read the color purple for the classics club and finished it in less than a week. Such an important story to be told.

Reviewed

Blogged

Watched

  • The boyfriend and I finally started the first season of The Crown. Late to the party, we know.

Added to my TBR

  • The flame bearer by Bernard Cornwell. No explanation needed here, I guess :D.
  • After having read so many great reviews of ‘Daughters of the night’, I want to try this series myself. And I’d start off with the first book Blood and sugar.
  • The damask rose by Carol McGrath about Eleanor of Castilië will be published in April.
  • When looking for Toby Clemens in the library, I came across Catherine Clemens’ ‘the crimson ribbon‘. A story set during the English civil war. I didn’t take it home this time, but I might during one of my next visits.

Links I enjoyed

What was your favourite March read?